By Bryan C. Hutchins and Patrick Akos
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Teenagers from rural communities face numerous barriers that may limit career exposure (geographic isolation, limited access to businesses and industries that employ highly skilled workers). School-to-work programs are one tool used to increase exposure and facilitate connections between school and work. Using a national U.S. representative data set, this article examines whether rurality relates to the availability of school-to-work programs, and rural youth’s program use.
To investigate rural-nonrural differences on access to and use of school- and work-based career preparation programs, the article used data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 implemented by the National Centre for Education Statistics. In 2002, the NCES drew random samples of more than 15,000 tenth graders across 750 randomly selected schools, where students were invited to complete a survey about their schooling experiences. The sample analysed included 6,464 students across 497 public high schools who had completed the questions about the use of career preparation programs (i.e. whether they had participated or not to career preparation programs such as internships, job shadowing, community service…).
Results indicate that rural schools were more likely to have vocational-technical prep and job shadowing programs compared with urban schools, but less likely to have school-based enterprise programs. After controlling for program availability, the authors found that rural youth were less likely to take part in job shadowing compared with urban youth. This finding is compelling given that rural schools are morel likely to have job shadowing programs. The authors indicate that the poor involvement of rural youth in job shadowing programs is due to a mismatch between the occupational aspirations of rural youth and the businesses and industries that are available to these youth. That is, rural communities tend to have fewer businesses and industries that require technical and managerial skills. Rural schools may have to turn to alternative strategies that expose rural youth to a broader array of professions that are available locally. For example, rural schools could set up virtual job shadowing programs, or encourage graduating students to serve as mentors to current students who are interested in pursuing similar careers.